Florida's Grieving Families Act gives birth certificates to people who've had miscarriages


Florida is officially the first state in the country to offer birth certificates to fetuses lost in miscarriages if the would-be parents would like one.

According to the Associated Press, Gov. Rick Scott signed the Grieving Families Act on Wednesday, giving Florida the green light to issue "certificates of nonviable birth" as soon as July 1.

In the case of a miscarriage between nine and 20 weeks of gestation, a "parent" can request a birth certificate for the fetus from the Department of Health. After 20 weeks, the miscarriage would qualify as a stillbirth and parents can still request certificates at that time. Abortion patients need not apply.

The bill also allows the requesting party to add a name to the birth certificate. If no name is provided, the HHS will simply write in "baby boy," "baby girl," or, if the sex isn't known — as is overwhelmingly likely, because sex organs won't be visible on an ultrasound until around 18 to 20 weeks — just "baby."

Miscarriages are very common: An estimated 10 to 20% of known pregnancies end spontaneously before 20 weeks, yet the experience remains stigmatized and seldom discussed. Miscarriages are often very difficult experiences for women.

Lawmakers who supported the legislation argued that they intended only to provide would-be parents with some solace, full stop. "For those of us who have lost a child, it is the most painful thing you can ever imagine," Rep. Bob Cortes said while defending the bill, according to WUSF Public Media. "This bill is simply about parents who lose their child," he added.

Yet the Grieving Family Act inspired some skepticism from reproductive rights advocates, including the National Organization for Women, which — according to WCT TV — sees it as a roundabout strike at abortion rights.

"The sponsors of the bill saying there’s no actual direct conflict with abortion laws are telling the truth," Mary Ziegler, the Stearns Weaver Miller Professor at Florida State University's College of Law, told WUSF. "There isn’t. But it’s part of a kind of incremental strategy to establish fetal rights that in the long-term could pose a threat to legal abortion."

It helps normalize the idea, Ziegler said, "that an unborn child is a person the same way that a child would be at 1 or 2 or 3 years old."

The bill received nearly unanimous support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. According to WUSF, legislators seemed to agree that women who've had miscarriages should be allowed some kind of formal recognition. And yet, as Ziegler pointed out, the language in the Grieving Families Act could also offer courts legal precedent for fetal personhood, and ultimately be used as a reason to restrict abortion access.